Yulio Castro-Garrido died of pneumonia on Jan. 30 at only 33 years old, leaving behind a community outraged and in mourning. Part of what makes Castro-Garrido’s death so outrageous is that it happened while (or perhaps because) he was in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.
Not many 33 year olds die of pneumonia these days, and so Castro-Garrido’s death raises questions about the conditions at Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center, where he fell ill in early January. He was transferred from Stewart to two medical facilities in Georgia before being taken to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., where he slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness, according to reports from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
ICE claims Castro-Garrido, a Cuban national, initially refused treatment, which caused his condition to worsen.
Castro-Garrido’s death sparked protests and vigils over the past week; one held outside the detention center in Lumpkin, Ga. on Saturday, and another held in Atlanta on Monday. Mourners called on officials to end immigrant detentions and intervene in the crisis created by mass incarceration.
At the Atlanta vigil, dozens gathered outside the Atlanta Immigration Court to listen to organizers speak about conditions in ICE-run facilities. Some described freezing temperatures and cruel corrections officers. They later marched to the Atlanta City Detention Center, where they protested outside the building’s entrance.
In addition to demands to shutter Stewart Detention Center, protesters also highlighted the connections between the ACDC and ICE. For instance, the City of Atlanta made $7 million by holding immigrant detainees for ICE in 2006 alone.
Stewart — privately run by the Corrections Corporation of America — has come under fire multiple times in the past year over concerns about medical neglect, among other human rights violations. At least two other men have died while being detained there since May of last year.
Unfortunately, the facility has a well-documented history of medical neglect. Just last year, Project South and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights released an in-depth report documenting deeply troubling conditions, including a lack of access to appropriate medical care, legal representation and adequate food.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with both ICE the Department of Homeland Security about Castro-Garrido’s death.
“DHS has a long and shameful track record of failing to protect the basic rights and safety of people in its custody,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the SPLC, in a press release.
“It provides inadequate medical care, as well as unsanitary and unsafe living conditions. Immigrants often wait days or weeks for basic medical attention, if they get it at all. Castro-Garrido’s death may well have been preventable, and we are seeking answers for the sake of every immigrant,” she added.
El Refugio organized a vigil outside Stewart Detention Center on Saturday, while the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, Solutions Not Punishment Collaboration, and Georgia Detention Watch co-organized the vigil in Atlanta earlier this week.